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The myth of the myth of the wage gap July 29, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, feminism, societal commentary, work.
Tags: , ,

Someone made a comment to me this weekend that I found rather interesting: “Why are men judged more on their income level than women?”

I thought this was interesting for two reasons.  First, Charles Peters posted something related on Facebook…which I’ll get back to in a moment.  (Thanks, Charles.)  Timing is everything.  Second, I was going to respond that, given our society is given to traditionalist notions, it’s kind of hard not to.  In traditional roles, men are supposed to be the breadwinners…hence, their income level is the primary characteristic by which they’re judged.  Feminism argues that this shouldn’t be the case, that men are more than just breadwinners and should have the same options to be stay-at-home dads, and it’s catching on…but slowly.

Anyway, I understand why the question is being asked and I do agree that it’s unfair that men are judged this way.  On the other hand, there’s a level of silliness in asking the question when it’s obvious we don’t live in a society where men and women are completely equal.

Going back to Charles, he posted a link to a video by Steven Horowitz that supposedly shows that women don’t actually make less than men and that this ‘supposed wage gap’ is actually a result of the fact that women go into fields where the income level is lower and also tend to work part-time.

Here’s the video, if you’re interested:

I love how, at the end, the Horowitz makes the comment that the wages paid “reflect the productivity of those choices.”  (And yes, I hope you’re getting the sarcasm here.)  Based on that comment, he’s ignoring the fact that, by his own argument, women having anything to do with raising children is completely unproductive.  Therefore, the real smart choice is simply to not have children.  (And, well, if you look at the women who tend to be highly successful in academia, it’s not a surprise that a good number of them don’t have children.)

So sorry guys (and maybe some gals): you have a choice between marrying a successful woman or having children, but don’t expect both.

Horowitz also glosses over the fact that there is a serious chicken and the egg question about the lower-paying fields.  Are they really ‘lower productivity’ choices?  Is a school teacher really less productive than an engineer?  According to the market, maybe, but is that really a good evaluator of productivity?  Personally, in my work, I don’t know that I work a whole lot harder than a school teacher.  In fact, I was part of a program in undergrad where I worked with school teachers and, after seeing what they go through, decided there was no way it would be worth it.  The question in my mind is whether these fields are undervalued precisely because they are women-dominated.  (And, in fact, there is research that shows this.)

And finally, there’s this notion put forward in the video that women aren’t actually paid less than men.  The Center for American Progress put forward a study showing that, if you look at the wage gap in each occupation, it turns out that 97% of jobs pay women less.  This flies in the face of Horowitz’s suggestion that the solution is to encourage women to go into higher paying jobs.

Of course, the second part of his solution is only marginally helpful: men need to help more with child care.  However, this is asking 1) that men do something ‘non-productive’ in terms of market and 2) doesn’t do anything about the lower salary in many women-dominated fields.

It seems like he missed another point: while women have made strides into entering male-dominated fields, the reverse has not been as true.  There is the possibility that, if men were encouraged to enter those fields, they may become more valuable.  On the other hand, men who do enter such fields tend to be promoted faster than women.

So back to the question of why women aren’t judged as harshly as men for their income levels: it’s because society still believes in traditional roles that women are really about making babies and their contribution to the monetary economy isn’t relevant because they aren’t as competent as men.


1. - July 29, 2013

Sorry, I haven’t watched the video (issues with sound on this computer) but shouldn’t the calculation take into account part-time work and calculate that by the hour? Or is it making the assumption that part-time jobs are inherently lower paying?

I think men do get judged (unfairly) for their income production but we are also an extremely materialistic society so that figures in too. Given all the other sexist things that happen in the workplace, I can’t get too worked up about that ;)

mareserinitatis - July 30, 2013

According to the video, the $.75 figure comes from taking the total earnings of all women and dividing by the number of (presumably) employed women versus a similar figure for men. So it’s a rather crude average.

On the other hand, this link (http://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2007/june/narrowing-male-female-wage-gap/) says that it’s usually calculated using only full-time workers. (This article is interesting in that it also points out that decreases in the wage gap stagnated after the 80s.)

I don’t know that there is information to allow one to do an hourly, but given there is a lot of truth to the argument that women usually end up in lower paying jobs (i.e., the info given in the HuffPo article), I don’t know that that would actually help, especially if that $.75 figure is calculated by excluding part-time workers and more women tend to work part-time than men. In fact, it may be even worse, in that situation.

2. Charles J Gervasi - August 13, 2013

Horowitz is stating the obvious. Caring for your own children and doing household work do not directly pay money. Time spent doing these things is time not spent doing marketable things. The more time spent doing marketable things, the better you earn and the more money you earn per unit time. Even if you didn’t earn more per unit time, you’d earn more simply by working more.

Women today still do more of the childcare and household work by far, so it’s surprising they earn even 75% of what men earn. I wouldn’t be shocked if it were 50%.

I don’t sense Horowitz is offering suggestions on what to do about this. He’s just stating the facts.

He’s not going into the huge elephant in the room: 100 years ago it was decided for people whether they would do paid work or household work. Today people have a choice. Much of how we live our lives we learn from tradition, but now we’re abandoning the traditional system of childcare *but have no solid plan in place to replace it.*

If men did more childcare and housework, it would directly cause women to earn more money. They would get paid for their additional hours at work and get better at what they do. Everyone’s free to make their own choices, and I’m not suggesting what they should do– just stating a fact.

I’m remembering a day four years ago when I was up most the night with a 1y/o. He woke up early Saturday (no nanny), and I did some errands with him on foot in a bit of a daze. Melinda came home from her law office with several thousand dollars of checks. We had no illusions that she earned the money w/o my help. She’s done the same for me, more often. It’s blatantly obvious we could have hired more nanny, further outsourcing parenting, and taken more engineering projects / law clients. We made our choices. We do not expect our businesses to grow as fast as someone who has an at-home spouse taking care of the home.

There is a huge sexist elephant in the room, here, but it has nothing to do with sexism in the labor market.

mareserinitatis - August 16, 2013

I read a few articles (many years ago) that in-home housework and childcare ought to be paid and that it’s some sort of ‘hidden’ economy. Our economy, as it stands now, is ‘blind’ to a significant amount of effort in the form of unpaid housework. The traditional argument goes that the man was the breadwinner so women stayed home and cared for children and did housework and that was their ‘job’. When that sort of care has moved into the labor market, the cost of that work is actually fairly significant, so much of is remains at home and unpaid. If women were actually paid for things like housework and child care of their own homes, it would have a huge effect on the economy.

I don’t think that’s the only thing going on, but it is certainly one of many factors. However, I think that Horowitz is sweeping a lot of things under the rug and calling them ‘choices’.

Charles J Gervasi - August 16, 2013

I’ve had the exact same thought about childcare. I heard about people hiring people for close to *minimum wage* to care for their children. Does that mean this skill provides little value? I say no. I say both providers and consumers of the service want to see it as more a labor of love than an economic transaction. They want to see it as the job of editing a wikipedia page. You could also look at it like the market for selling sex, where many market participants do not want to blatantly hand over cash for sex. (I don’t mean buying childcare is meretricious. The analogy only applies to the economics of it.)

I haven’t had this exact conversation so starkly juxtaposed, but the attitude goes something like this:

“What’s Melinda’s office’s rate for probate?”
“$190/hr for a partner; $150/hr for an associate.”
“That sounds reasonable. When my Dad died I paid $200/hr.”
“How much does your nanny charge?”
“Really!? That sounds expensive!”

WTF? One job involves paperwork and the other mind-numbing backbreaking work.

My gut feeling is there’s more going on than the labor-of-love model explains. I don’t know why the market price of childcare is lower than I would expect it to be.

Maybe I misunderstand “choices”, but it feels like this is acutely about choices. I am confident Melinda and I would earn more money if we had focused on businesses and completely outsourced childcare. If we had outsourced no childcare, one of us would be out of our industry. It seems like it’s all about *choices*.

mareserinitatis - August 16, 2013

You do have the choice of hiring care. However, there are a lot of people out there who don’t. There are also many people who will never be able to increase their economic worth even if they get help around the home simply because their skills aren’t in demand. You and your wife have the option of spending more time with kids and reducing pay. Those who are earning minimum wage probably don’t…or who don’t have a spouse to help out. That’s what I mean by there being a limit to the effectiveness of choices.

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